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Health & Spirit

On-site health care could help seniors stay at home

Teresa Wiltz, Stateline.org on

Published in Health & Fitness

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The "two super fantastic ladies" -- as one resident calls them -- at the Weinberg Villages senior housing complex are operating quasi-undercover. Sure, they serve up smiles, friendly chit-chat and treats for four-legged visitors. But while they're smiling and talking to the residents here, they've really got an ulterior motive.

"I'm secretly picking them apart," said Latonya Gwynn, the on-site nurse. Gwynn said she does a medical assessment mentally every time a resident comes into her office.

"We are the very nice ladies in the office," said Resident Wellness Director Lisa Mears-Morris. "But the nice ladies are always doing their job."

Since early last year, they've been ensconced here as part of a federal experiment, checking blood pressure, making sure residents are taking their medicine, encouraging them to exercise, showing them how to prevent falls, helping them sign up for food stamps, Medicaid and Medicare -- even showing up for hospital visits.

"I don't want to sound like we're Mary Poppins and we're doing something magical," Mears-Morris said. "But we're trying to help them age in place with the best quality of life."

The nation's older population is growing rapidly -- it's projected to nearly double by 2050. Many seniors want to stay in their homes, but when they grow older and more infirm, that isn't always possible.

 

Nor are there enough services -- access to transportation and doctors, help managing medication -- to make it easier for them to stay at home, according to a 2017 report by the Office of Policy Development and Research in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

A social services pilot program at Weinberg Villages in Owings Mills, Md., part of a three-year, $15 million federal experiment, could be one solution. The community is one of 40 affordable housing sites around the country participating in a demonstration program funded by HUD called IWISH -- Integrated Wellness in Supportive Housing.

The program works to deliver health care services to low-income seniors in affordable housing developments so they stay out of emergency rooms and nursing homes. Participants get an individualized plan to improve their health, such as taking fall-prevention classes or working on weight loss or getting signed up for mental health care.

The pilot program brings service coordinators and health care workers to federally subsidized senior housing developments operated by nonprofits at sites in California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and South Carolina.

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